Who Are We ?
In 1984 a small walking holiday company was created, based in the beautiful Val d’Azun in the heart of the French Pyrenees. This company, named « La Balaguère » after the warm breeze that blows upwards from the Sahara to the Pyrenees, offered guided walking trips led by a small group of friends with a huge passion for the mountains.
Little by little La Balaguère expanded and more than 35 years later we help over 13,000 people every year enjoy walking and cycling holidays in the Pyrenees and further afield, to the most unspoilt areas of the world.
In 2018 we launched a new and exciting project. Purely Pyrenees is the English language branch of our business, offering self-guided and guided trips, walking and cycling from Spring to Autumn and snowshoeing in the Winter. Using our decades of experience we created a new range of holidays designed for English speakers who come, maybe for the first time, to experience the best the Pyrenees has to offer. Our focus is always to provide highlights, iconic places to visit, wonderful itineraries, authentic hotels and, of course, tremendous cuisine.
Purely Pyrenees and La Balaguère are now owned by the UCPA (Union des Centres Sportifs de Plein Air) which is a non-profit organisation in France that specialises in making outdoor sports holidays available for all. We are still based where we have always been, in the Pyrenean village of Arrens-Marsous.
We are very proud of our Pyrenean chain and of the knowledge that we have of it, amassed over years of providing guided and self-guided holidays. You can be sure that if you travel with us we will do everything we can to make sure you have a wonderful trip.
We have probably all heard of the Cathars, but do you know who they really were or where they came from ?
In fact the Cathars were a religious group that flourished in region of France known as the Languedoc from the 11th Century. Although their beliefs were based around the principles of the existence of good and evil they were at odds with the powerful Catholic Church. Angered by the rapid growth and success of the Cathar faith the Head of the Catholic Church, Pope Innocent III, called for a Crusade against the “heretics”. The Albigensian Crusade was launched and from 1208 onwards over half a million men, women and children suspected of being Cathars were killed.
After the start of the crusade against them, the Cathars took refuge in fortified towns and castles, many of which were perched in spectacular hilltop locations near the Pyrenees.
If you decide on a walking holiday in this area, From Cathar Castles To Mediterranean Collioure, for example, a visit to this castle is an absolute must. It is hard to imagine not being touched by emotion, not only by the breathtaking beauty of the site, but by the knowledge that you walk in the footsteps of over 200 Cathars who held out for nearly ten months, before being burnt alive in a field near the castle, for refusing to renounce their faith.
The walk up to the ruins of the castle is fairly steep but it’s not long, taking a maximum of 30 minutes to get to the top. You need a good pair of shoes and a small amount of courage but the reward is worth the effort ! The visit to the castle is not free, you will be asked to pay a small sum but this does include a visit to the museum situated in the village, the perfect way to finish off the experience.
From Cathar Castles To Mediterranean Collioure is a 7 night trip with 7 days walking, available with Purely Pyrenees from 1st April to 31st October.
The stronghold was besieged for 10 months before being taken by the royal army in March 1244, the month of the Prat dels Cremats ("field of the burned") tragedy when 225 Cathars who had refused to renounce their faith perished on a funeral pyre. A history and archaeology museum in the village of Montségur traces the history of the site and of Catharism through a rich collection of objects found during excavations at the castle.
Montségur fortress is perched on top of a rocky spur at an altitude of 1,207 metres and can be reached on foot in 30 minutes. In addition to its medieval remains, it offers visitors a magnificent panoramic view over the village below and the surrounding scenery.
Scene of the final crusade against the Cathars, the Château de Montségur, perched on its rocky crag 1,216m above sea level, occupies a site towering above a series of cliffs. It commands an exceptional view of the Plantaurel hills, the Aude Valley and St-Barthélemy Range. In 1244, the castle surrendered its arms and 207 Cathar martyrs who had taken refuge there were burned at the stake. You can still make out the plan of the fortress which hugs the surface of the summit.
Montségur has almost a cult following, attracting Cathar history enthusiasts, hikers and lovers of charming small French villages. This tiny Midi-Pyrénées village is located in France's Midi-Pyrénées region (and the lovely Ariège Pyrénées department) on the edge of Cathar Country, near Foix and within easy striking distance of Perpignan. Montségur Château is arguably the most significant monument to the Cathar religious sect.
The Cathars believed in a natural, humble lifestyle and proved a thorn in the side of the Catholic church which they criticized relentlessly. It was in Montségur castle, perched up high and surrounded by the small streets of the village, that around six hundred Cathar 'heretics' held off the Crusaders for months. It was on March 16th, 1244, that the last Cathars surrendered. When they were finally conquered, they were given the choice to renounce their religion or perish in the flames, an agonising death which most chose.